Denim has been a wardrobe staple for decades, but unfortunately the versatile fabric also has one of the worst ethical and environmental footprints in the fashion industry. According to a recent Greenpeace report, it takes 1.7 million tons of chemicals to produce two billion pairs of jeans every year, and the water consumption needed for production can go as high as 7,000 litres per pair. Thankfully though, there are a number of eco-friendly denim brands who are overhauling their production practices and using innovative approaches and technology to reduce waste and pollution.
Founded in 2001 by the former design director of Lee Europe, Maria Erixon, Nudie Jeans is a Sweden-based denim brand that is passionate about creating jeans with that already-broken-in look. Not only is the brand’s denim manufactured with 100% organic cotton, using 91% less water than traditional methods of production, but it also recycles jeans, rewarding customers who return worn-out pairs with a discount on new purchases, and washing and repairing the used pair to sell as second-hand articles in their retail shops.
From its inception, Edun’s mission has been to encourage sustainable production and encourage trade to flourish in Africa. Their denim line is no different, with all jeans made in Kenya by artisanal craftsmen and every product certified Fair Trade and made from organic materials. Edun also works with the Better Cotton Initiative, which aims to reduce the impact of cotton production on the environment.
Today, 61% of the cotton Stella McCartney uses in its collections (including its denim) is certified organic. Organic farming techniques use significantly less water as the crops are mainly rain-fed instead of irrigated. And because there are no toxic chemicals used in organic farming, there are no unnecessary toxins going into the ground. Also, the premium prices paid for organic cotton helps farmers to increase their incomes. In order to ensure that the cotton Stella McCartney uses is being grown in a regenerative way, the brand are working on gaining farm-level traceability for our cotton. In 2016, we were able to trace the origins of 94% of the cotton used back to the country it came from.
A favourite of Meghan Markle’s, Outland Denim is committed to sourcing the most ethically and environmentally sound raw materials. The Australian-based reduces the impact of its denim by sourcing it from a Turkish mill called Bossa, which aims to improve the sustainability of cotton growing and manufacturing. Outland Denim also addresses the issue of toxic synthetic indigo dye, which poses a major threat to environmental and human health, by prioritising the use of natural indigo dyes for its denim, derived from a plant species called Indigofera.
In 2017, Reformation, the eco-friendly fashion retailer launched a new sister line called Reformation Jeans, which is made using 100% recycled materials, leftover fabrics or sustainably sourced fibres. The brand’s denim uses only one third of the amount of water and cotton and eliminates harmful chemicals in the finishing process. Instead, it uses non-chlorine based bleaches to wash down the denim and a neutral-based enzyme that reduces the amount of water, resources and energy required.
Citizens of Humanity
Since 2003, Citizens of Humanity has gone to great lengths to use the most ecologically sustainable technology and practices. It is one of the few denim companies that own all of their production vertically. This helps not only control the quality of denim, but also its sustainability. Among other things, the brand was one of the first to adopt laser technology to add abrasions to its denim. This step saves gallons of water and reduces gas consumption by 20-30%. COH has also invested in high-efficiency dyes and washing machines that, together, reduce its power usage by over 70%.